Professor says 'Barbie' movie is too White for his toddler

Campus Reform asked Dwight Watkins to clarify how he reached his conclusion, considering there are several minority actors portraying Barbie in the trailer and in the movie.

'There wasn't enough representation for me to feel comfortable with a 3-year-old who is still learning what beauty means," Watkins told Campus Reform.

A University of Baltimore professor said he will not take his 3-year-old daughter to see Barbie because the trailer left him “overwhelmed with whiteness.”

”Barbie, which does have a few nonwhite cast members, including Issa Rae, America Ferrera, and Ncuti Gatwa, has one of the whitest trailers I ever saw in my life,” Dwight Watkins writes in his Salon op-ed.

The Barbie trailer features Caucasian actress Margot Robbie as Barbie, Caucasian actor Ryan Gosling as Ken, and Honduran-American America Ferrera as Gloria, a Mattel employee and mother, among other White and minority actors. 

Campus Reform asked Watkins to clarify how he reached his conclusion, considering there are several Black people in the trailer and in the movie. Rwandan-born actor Ncuti Gatwa plays a version of Ken and Black actress Issa Rae plays a pivotal role in the plot as the President of Barbie Land. Watkins writes in his op-ed he has been a fan of Issa Rae since she starred in The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and Insecure, but he does not write anything else about her relevant to the Barbie trailer or movie. 

”There wasn’t enough representation for me to feel comfortable with a 3-year-old who is still learning what beauty means,” Watkins told Campus Reform”She’s still learning. She’s still figuring these things out. It wasn’t enough for me.” Watkins said that when his daughter is older, “she can watch Barbie 10 thousand times, but she has to get there.”

Watkins reflected this same sentiment in his op-ed. “How do you even begin to open the door to conversations about race and how movies and commercials in America act like white people have a monopoly on beauty? Google ‘attractive woman’ and watch the page fill up with white faces,” Watkins writes.

In a cursory internal investigation of Watkins’ claim, Campus Reform found that in fact, while search results vary across browsers and devices, a Google search of the phrase “attractive woman” often yields pictures of women of varied ethnicities on the first page, with an image African American woman often appearing as high as the third image.

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Data from UCLA’s 2023 Hollywood Diversity Report shows that Black people were overrepresented among theatrical film roles and at or close to proportionate representation among streaming film roles in 2022. In streaming film leads, Black people were also close to or at proportionate representation in 2022. However, they were underrepresented as leads among top theatrical releases in 2022. 

Majority-minority casts represented the plurality among top streaming films, the UCLA report states. In television, minorities have even more representation. 

“Proportionate representation means reaching the 42.7 percent population share threshold for minority groups collectively in 2020-21,” UCLA’S 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report states. “When individual minority groups are considered, Black and multiracial persons exceeded proportionate representation among leads in 2020-21 for cable and digital scripted shows.” Majority-minority casts also constituted the plurality of digital and cable-scripted shows in 2020-21.

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Watkins writes in his op-ed that his sister and cousin played with White Barbie dolls as kids and the fact that Barbie could be anybody from a doctor to a supermodel inspired them.

“My sister owned that, and maybe that ambition rubbed off on her,” he said.

The Barbie brand has increasingly manufactured more diverse dolls, selling more than 100 different variants of Barbie, including dolls of minority backgrounds and ethnicities, Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz said at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen.

“Barbie is the most diverse brand in the toy industry,” Kreiz said. “It’s very important for us, it’s part of our DNA, to represent consumers whoever they are, wherever they are, and you’ll see that also in our movies.”

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